Where Are They Now: For Smruti Hariprakasha, Science Runs in the Family

aBy Chris Worthington, staff writer; contributed images
Smruti presents at the Student Poster Days event.

In retrospect, it’s not surprising that Smruti Hariprakasha, the daughter of two scientists, ended up at the National Cancer Institute as a Werner H. Kirsten intern.

She says that the family profession spurred her interest in science from an early age, and her experiences on the NCI at Frederick campus, such as attending Take Your Child to Work Day with her parents when she was young, helped her feel at home when she began her internship. On top of that, her mother, Lakshman Bindu, works for the Frederick National Laboratory as part of the RAS Initiative.

“[My mother] was the biggest supporter when applying for the WHK program. Her efforts in making contacts and giving me the best opportunity as a high schooler allowed me to have a great experience as a WHK intern,” Hariprakasha said.

That internship, her first at NCI at Frederick, was directed by Jairaj Acharya, Ph.D., senior investigator, Cancer and Developmental Biology Laboratory. In his lab, she helped study sphingolipid and phospholipid signaling in Drosophila fly systems. With additional guidance from a postdoctoral fellow, Govind Kunduri, Ph.D., Hariprakasha learned to use gel electrophoresis, Western blots, PCR amplification, bacterial transformation, restriction digestions, DNA extractions, and plasmid mini-preps.

“She was one of the best students I have ever seen. She was a dedicated, hardworking, and brilliant student,” Kunduri said.

Hariprakasha’s WHK internship ended once she graduated from high school, but she returned under a Cancer Research Training Award (CRTA) in the summer of 2016 in Occupational Health Services, where she was mentored by Sarah Hooper, nurse practitioner manager. Finally, Hariprakasha returned to OHS as a CRTA intern from the winter of 2016 through the summer of 2018.

“Working at the Occupational Health Services has by far been one of the most eye-opening internships and a learning experience overall,” she said. “Working with live patients helped put into perspective how important it is to practice before actually interning at the hospital during my clinical years in nursing school.”

After spending nearly four years in three different internships, Hariprakasha has taken her experiences at the bench and the bedside to Stevenson University, where she is a nursing major, a resident assistant, a member of the student government and the Spanish club, and the president and founder of a South Indian/Asian dance team, Nachde.

She is also the recipient of the Presidential Fellowship, which, according to Stevenson’s website, is “awarded to incoming freshmen who have the potential to make a lasting impact on the Stevenson community.” It recognizes leadership, ambition, and innovation and provides the recipient with a full scholarship. Presidential fellows are also encouraged to join activities that foster personal and intellectual growth, so Hariprakasha has been volunteering her weekends at homeless shelters and low-income hospitals in Baltimore.

Asked about her future plans, Hariprakasha laid out her 5-, 10-, and 20-year goals with astounding clarity. First, she plans to work as a registered nurse in a local hospital’s newborn intensive care unit (or any other unit she becomes enamored with during her clinical rounds). Ten years from now, she hopes to have finished her nursing Ph.D. and be working as a licensed nurse practitioner. And two decades from now, she hopes to have her own private clinic and be working as a part-time Indian classical dance teacher in the DMV region.

She knows that much of it wouldn’t be possible without the benefit of her NCI at Frederick internships.  And while achieving it all would be remarkable, those who knew Hariprakasha best say she’s up to the challenge.

“Smruti is a talented young lady who interned with OHS due to her interest in medicine. Her dream was to become a nurse. She was so excited about the internship and her enthusiasm continued during her time with OHS,” said Hooper. “She has excellent leadership abilities and has served as an informal leader to the other student interns. As a mentor it has been exhilarating to watch as she completes her nursing classes and shares with me how helpful the internship has been to help her with school. She will become an excellent nurse.”